Let’s face it – going on vacation amid the global pandemic is not the same as it used to be. Access to medical flights is an absolute necessity. While some parts of the world have completely shut themselves down to the outside public, others have taken a cautious approach. Added to this is the fact that more variants are constantly popping up in several parts of the world. Tests to ensure infection-free passengers have become a norm today. All these things have made it tough for emergency medical flights to function without any hurdles.
Medical Flights and Insurance
The importance of travel insurance is very high in the current scenario. For instance, you go on a vacation to Bali. You arrive in the country without any symptoms, enjoy yourself, and are about to get back to your home country. The travel, of course, will require you to produce a COVID-negative medical report. What if you find out that you are positive, and over the ensuing days, find yourself battling against the symptoms of COVID infection? Would you not want to be close to your family when an instance like this occurs? It becomes virtually impossible to travel to your country given the huge costs involved in hiring medical flights across borders. This is when insurance comes into the picture.
Looking Beyond Evacuations
The symptoms that you experience may not warrant medical flights but what about staying in the country that you are visiting. If you are on a budget, things can get a little tricky and travel insurance can help. You might need to quarantine yourself in a designated facility. Of course, if the symptoms are severe, you might even need an air ambulance to get to the nearest treatment facility, which can sometimes mean taking adequate permissions and flying back to your country. All this becomes an uphill task when you do not have the right travel insurance and access to medical flights.
One needs to be more cautious than usual when the situation involves the health of elderly people; medical flights are no different. If you have an elderly person in your home, you already know about the kind of precautions that you need to take beforehand even if it is a routine doctor’s appointment. The effort required is much more if elderly people fall sick in foreign nations and an evacuation is warranted through medical flights. If you are faced with a situation like this, here are a few tips that will ensure smooth transportation.
Know About All Existing Health Conditions
Medical flights can hold a lot of equipment. However, since there is a space constraint, usually only the necessary ones are carried. It is, therefore, vital that you mention all such details before booking medical flights. Besides, the information allows the air ambulance company to have the right medical experts on board. For instance, if the patient suffers from dementia or other such age-related ailments, special arrangements may be required.
Medical Flights Must be Told About Any Mobility Issues
While some elderly patients need wheelchairs, others may need wheelchairs with oxygen. From stretchers to hospital beds, medical flights can arrange anything, provided they get a proper insight into the requirements beforehand. The person booking the flight must be knowledgeable about such requirements. One does not need to be overwhelmed by it. A detailed discussion with the treating physician can help to a great extent.
Know About Companion Restrictions if Any
Depending on the medical experts and equipment required onboard, a companion may or may not be allowed to travel along with the elderly patient. It is good to know about such things in advance. One must be proactive in asking the medical flights about such minute details to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
It is almost as if the world has lost count of how many COVID-19 waves have hit it so far. In the United States, while some of the states have it well under control now, others do not. Some even contend that they are facing a fourth wave of the pandemic. One thing is for sure, medical flights have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. With the number of positive cases running into several thousand, it is obvious that a portion of these COVID-positive patients is in a serious health condition. Then there are those who are in areas that do not have enough hospital beds or adequate facilities to treat their conditions. Medical flights are the only recourse in these situations.
Medical Flights are Witnessing an Unprecedented Demand
The rural United States is highly dependent on medical flights when it comes to availing adequate treatment. With the pandemic penetrating several rural areas in the country, the demand surge has been very steep. The flight staff is under immense pressure to meet this demand. In this context, it must be noted that the staff of these medical flights must wear special personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe. This impedes their mobility and can be quite tough. The body heat that the gear retains can make the day’s work quite exhausting.
Most Companies are Offering Extra Support to their Staff
Employees of medical flights are not just facing physical exertion but also the mental stress that comes along with it. Prolonged work hours in tough conditions coupled with the fear of contracting the infection and putting their own families at risk is one of them. On their part, the organizations that run medical flights are keeping a close watch and offering support to their staff in these difficult times.
What makes the United States great is the choices that it brings to its consumers. Enter a supermarket and you find aisles that are dedicated to breakfast cereals alone and people love this fact. It also makes the prices competitive where the end consumers benefit from cheaper goods. However, when it comes to medical flights the same cannot be said. It is not that there aren’t enough medical flights in the country. In fact, the United States has the highest number of air ambulance companies when compared to any other country in the whole world. Then, why are people not able to freely choose.
Medical Flights Need a Marketplace
If you are wondering what a marketplace is, here is the answer. It is a simple online platform that lists various medical flights and gives you all the details pertaining to them. The details can be the price, the locations covered, the services offered, the logistical capability, and any other value addition that the company brings to the table. This makes it easy for people to compare the options before them and make an informed decision. The tool will also compel the medical flights to keep their prices competitive and give out the best quotes to the consumers.
What Else Can a Marketplace Do?
A marketplace can go a step further from being merely a comparison engine. It can become a place where people can discuss their experience with an air ambulance service. Moreover, it can become a mechanism through which bookings and payments are made. Of course, there is going to be a degree of regulation surrounding this. However, if the federal and state governments become involved in the marketplace to standardize it, the benefits can be numerous. It becomes a win-win situation for all the parties involved. For a model like this to be a success, the service providers must be mandated by the government to register on the marketplace, so that it becomes a comprehensive spot to compare and book medical flights.
If there is one thing that’s constant about medical flights, it is the fact that the industry is continually reinventing itself. From electric medical flights that are capable of vertical takeoff to dashboards that keep the crew updated with all the information they need during the flight, the sector is full of innovations. However, these innovations bring along something that the industry and its consumers do not desire, and that is the increase in costs. Balancing costs and enhanced efficiency is something that the industry has grappled with for quite some time. The question that arises is whether the innovations are proving too expensive for the industry.
The Rising Cost of Medical Flights has been a Long-Time Concern
The cost of medical flights never fails to make headlines. When middle-class families get slapped with huge air ambulance bills, eyebrows are naturally raised. The insurance coverage is often non-existent or so scant that they fail to cover the costs.
Innovations, in the midst of all this, can prove to be an added cost burden discouraging the industry to go ahead with them. Contributing further to it is the training and adaptation cost that adds fuel to fire. Then, what is the solution?
Rethinking the Least Likely Spaces
Fuel is one area that is a money burner. Aviation fuel does not come cheap. Moreover, the fuel itself is heavy, which translates into a need for more fuel to carry it. What if a predictive technology can be innovated to maintain optimum fuel levels? The other area is the material that goes into building the medical flights. What if the material that is lighter and less friction-causing is innovated? The list goes on. Of course, the focus needs to be trained on affordability.
All the research should ideally be funded by governments, communities, and corporates together with industry leaders. A model like this can truly take the costs in the right direction.
Medical flights that are considered safe to carry patients infected by COVID-19 are seeing a huge bump in demand at the current time. The surge in demand started in about March and continues to hold strong. The COVID-19 infection numbers have seen a temporary remission but have been on a rise recently. Medical flights have been a great source for repatriation during these troubled times. The fact that the world is now slowly opening up despite the high number of infections is adding fuel to the existing demand.
Medical Flights Find it Easier to Cross Borders Now
Earlier when the COVID-19 had just hit the world, nations across the globe had closed their borders. This had posed a logistical challenge as the process to obtain special permission to enter some nations can be quite long-drawn and tedious. However, at the current time, most countries are opening their borders with some safety precautions being put in place. The world today realizes the fact that hiding from the virus is no solution, rather it is the will to fight it through adequate precautions that matter. This attitude has benefited the medical flights that conduct repatriations.
Many People are Still Stuck in Foreign Countries
COVID-ready medical flights are seeing that most of their flights are beyond their home countries. It is natural that in today’s highly connected world, many people live abroad and do so for years. For someone who has been outside for years together, it isn’t easy to leave everything and head back home. However, if one contracts the infection – especially if it is severe – the preference usually is to seek treatment close to the loved ones. Medical flights are the only recourse in situations like these. With the resurgence of infections in most European countries and part of the United States, the demand for medical flights is slated to go up further.
Sounds a little odd that medical flights are a part of F1 racing, right? Not when you look at it closely. The safety rules surrounding F1 necessitate that any injured driver receives treatment within 20 minutes. However, it is impossible to get treatment at that speed without the involvement of medical flights. In fact, air ambulances are always on standby during the races. Not just that, they are kept ready even during practice sessions. Any time the medical flights are not able to function due to one reason or the other, the race itself is canceled. Such is the importance attached to the availability of quick reach to treatment and air ambulances are a big part of it.
The Recent Unavailability of Medical Flights during Practice Sessions
The practice session was recently canceled at the Nurburgring track. The reason was the inability of medical flights to function due to adverse weather conditions. The track is prone to thick fog during certain times of the year, and this is an obstacle to operate air ambulances. Recently, two practice sessions were abandoned due to this reason. The fans that were there to watch their favorite sports stars were in for a disappointment.
Change in Protocols to Maintain Safety
The third session of the F1 practice session was held with a few changes in the protocol without compromising safety. Land ambulances were kept handy in case of emergencies. They would transport the injured to a certain distance where an air ambulance would be stationed and ready to go to the nearest appropriate facility. The medical flight was parked in a location where the weather conditions were congenial. The entire protocol was designed such that the evacuation would still be possible within 20 minutes. Of course, if the weather clears up, there would not be a need for the new protocol at all.
Medical flights can fly above almost any terrain but landing can be a worry. Rappelling from choppers has its own risk, putting the lives of the rescuers and the injured in grave danger. Spinning out of control and hitting adjacent rocks in a mountainous environment are just a few of the risks. That said, for people stranded in the toughest of the terrain with no access to roads, medical flights are the only recourse. However, these too are not without logistical restrictions. Reaching the stranded ones, especially when they are injured, is a logistical nightmare. Getting the medical staff to such terrains is almost impossible, and the people, who can reach them, often lack the medical expertise.
Jet Suits Can Further the Reach of Medical Flights
Imagine donning a jet suit to bounce out of medical flights, reaching the injured on time, and flying back again into the air ambulance. That can do wonders, right? While it might seem like a scene from a James Bond movie, it may soon become a reality. In fact, a British company is currently working towards exactly this. The company that is behind this brilliant effort is Gravity Industries. The organization recently released a video where they simulated a rescue mission in a jet suit.
About the Simulation
The simulation published by the company shows a paramedic pilot in a jet suit, traversing tough terrains to rescue an injured 10-year-old girl. The entire effort takes just about 90 seconds, whereas the same rescue on foot would take about an hour and a half. The suit makes way for travel at an astounding 51 km per hour and can move horizontally as well as vertically. If this is finally good enough for use in real-life situations, it can augment the efforts of medical flights to a huge extent. For now, we will just have to wait and watch, hoping that it becomes a reality soon.
The COVID-19 pandemic is slowly making inroads into rural America. The higher number of elderly people living in rural communities is especially vulnerable now. Moreover, the infection is known to be fatal to people with diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments that impact natural immunity in human beings. All things considered, people living in rural parts of the country must have access to medical flights. However, this is turning out to be a huge problem for organizations that offer air ambulance services. It has again boiled down to balance billing, insurance denials, and financial burden to patients.
Medical Flights Being Denied Coverage is a Concern
Medical flights are a part of an industry that is highly competitive and which is already struggling to stay afloat. The COVID-19 situation has created an emergency of sorts throughout the nation and medical flights need to play a huge role in offering adequate coverage to rural communities. However, the threat of inadequate coverage is limiting its services. In this context, it must be noted that when coverage is denied by insurance companies, the burden is shifted to the patients. This presents a significant financial burden to the patients that can run into several tens of thousands.
The Percentage of Balance Billing is Small but Significant
About 300,000 air ambulance evacuations are carried out every year; of this, 3% end up in balance bills. This is primarily due to insurance denials. Most of these denials are due to the service provider being out-of-network.
The providers of medical flights too have not been keen on going in-network with insurance companies. The reason for this is the fact that reimbursements rates have remained unchanged. However, there is hope. With states like Florida looking to revise insurance reimbursement rates, the scenario could change soon.
Keeping medical flights afloat during the ongoing COVID-19 spread is turning out to be an uphill task for most air ambulance companies. Several issues that were never thought of before are surfacing now. Shortage is a word that is widespread in the industry today. We take a look at some of the issues that are hindering the functioning of the industry.
Professionals Being Moved Away from Medical Flights
The shortage of frontline, qualified medical staff is a well-known problem in the current scenario. No amount of frontline medical workers is proving enough to tackle the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, staff serving medical flights is being called to fill this deficit. The development is quite understandable, but it is certainly hindering the air ambulance services.
Lack of Adequate Medical Flights
COVID-19 has given too little time for medical flights to adapt. Isolation facilities are not good enough to carry infected patients in most medical flights. Employing these can, no doubt, put the frontline workers at risk of contracting the highly contagious infection.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment is essential if emergency workers are to function seamlessly. However, every country around the world is currently facing a shortage of these. This is a huge roadblock.
Fall in Emergency Cases
The lockdown that is being followed in almost all countries around the world has translated into less road traffic, and as a consequence, MVAs have gone down. Also, it is not easy for people to procure illicit substances, so related cases have also gone down. There is, therefore, a slight slump in demand, which is quite welcome.
Once the world goes back to normal, it is expected that the medical flights too will be able to function normally. Until then, the industry will function as efficiently as possible given the constraints.